The other day I caught up with a friend for coffee. We got talking about getting together with friends, either going to someone’s house, or having someone over. After further discussion we both came to the conclusion that it’s about the role you assume when you’re a guest at someone’s home. And conversely the role they have as host.
The conversation came about after we started talking about the impact of my decision to stop drinking for 10 weeks. One of the biggest challenges I have faced in the first few days is an expectation that if I don’t drink, I’ll be dull to be around. I don’t think I am a boring person, but maybe I’m just more fun when I drink.
As a guest, you’re supposed to be entertaining. It all sounds very old fashioned, but you’re supposed to have a witty anecdote or 3 to keep the table entertained. It makes you fun to be with. You should be the best version of yourself, with positive energy, a good level of chat (but not too much), friendly and outgoing. You bring a bottle, you eat the meal that’s provided without complaint, you still have room for dessert. And you leave before you’ve outstayed your welcome.
We all have stories of nightmare dinner guests. The guest who got drunk and fell asleep at the table. The guest who complained bitterly about their boss throughout the evening. The couple who fight at the table. The guest who dominated the evening with their extreme, and extremely dry, political opinions. The guest who deliberately picks the opposing opinion to everyone else at the table. The guest who has 15 different food aversions. The guest who just doesn’t know when it’s time to leave and who you eventually have to make a bed up for and who then still won’t leave well into the next day.
That last one’s happened to me at least 3 times. I haven’t invited those people back.
Conversely, being a host comes with it’s own set of responsibilities. Understanding your guest isn’t drinking, so providing an alternative. Understanding your guest is watching their weight, so not pushing dessert on them. Understanding your guest has commitments the following day, so not making them feel guilty for leaving. Understanding that your guests will be hungry, so dinner should be served pre-midnight. Understanding what it is to be a host.
None of this is new. It used to be de riguer for everyone around the table to understand the etiquette for entertaining. But in our less formal times, even basic courtesies are often forgotten.
I’m not sure we need a hard and fast set of rules any more. I can forgive lapses of judgement and behaviour as a result of a glass or two too many. For goodness sake, we’ve all been there, and people who live in glass houses and all. But as I’ve said above, there are some people I just cannot have in my house any more.
For the others, we make allowances. For the friends who forget to feed us with any semblance of timeliness, we eat in advance. For the friends who drink too much, we provide water (or water down the wine). For the friend who’s grumpy, we sympathise, and appreciate that they’ve had a tough week. For the friends who don’t know when to leave, we get them an Uber.
We try to hold on to some social niceties, but we tone down the judgement.
PAN FRIED FISH WITH SMASHED POTATOES AND AVOCADO VINAIGRETTE
Recently I was sent a few avocados courtesy of The Fresh Avocado Company. It got me thinking about avocados in the late 1980’s – the heyday of a half avocado as a highly priced, prestigious entree at well regarded restaurants, perhaps adorned with a few king prawns.
This dish was a favourite of mine when I worked at Le Brie, a french restaurant in St Patrick’s Square, in a location now occupied by The Grove. It’s really held up over the years, and deserves a come back.
500g agria potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 avocado, cut into 1cm dice
Handful basil leaves, sliced
4 fillets white fish (snapper or terikihi)
4 Tbsp flour for dusting
Olive oil for frying
1 Tbsp butter
- Cook potatoes in salted water until soft (approximately 10 minutes). Set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the avocado vinaigrette. Whisk together extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and dijon mustard until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Gently mix avocado, basil and vinaigrette together in a small bowl.
- Dry fish fillets with paper towel. Dust with flour, then fry in olive oil in a heavy based fry pan over a medium/high heat until cooked (about 3 minutes each side).
- Drain the potatoes, and crush lightly with a fork, so the potatoes are crushed, but not mashed completely. Gently stir through butter.
- Share potatoes evenly between 4 plates, and top with a fish fillet. Spoon over the avocado and basil, with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.